Knicks blow away 15-pt lead in humbling loss on NBA’s 75th anniversary

Alder Almo

On November 1, 1946, the New York Knickerbockers fended off Toronto Huskies’ rally to win, 68-66, in the historic opener of the inaugural Basketball Association of America (BAA), the predecessor of the NBA.

The New York Knicks couldn’t hold on to their lead on Monday night like they did 75 years ago.

The surging Raptors, now representing Toronto, returned the favor and dealt the Knicks a humbling loss, 113-104, at the Madison Square Garden.

The Raptors beat the Knicks at their own game, outhustling and outshooting them in the final 29 minutes of the game.

Julius Randle had a strong start with 18 first-quarter points and three of the Knicks’ seven assists. With Randle in his element, the Knicks’ offense was humming. They connected on 8 of 13 three-pointers to start the game. Then the ball stopped moving, and the shots ceased falling.

Randle only had four points and two assists the rest of the way. The Knicks just made 13 assists and 8 of 25 from deep after that torrid start.

“We lost the lead, got back on our heels. They were the aggressors. That’s basically the story of the game,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau lamented.

Toronto charged back from a 15-point New York lead in the final 4:32 of the second quarter. A Raptors’ 18-7 closing run built around four three-pointers trimmed the Knicks’ lead to four at the half, 57-53.

“That’s where the game turned. We turned the ball over, we gave them fast breaks, and then we gave them hope. Then the third quarter we got drilled,” Thibodeau added.

In that pivotal third quarter, the defense that became Knicks’ ticket to the playoffs last season was non-existent. The Raptors outscored them, 38-22, and seized a 91-79 lead that ballooned to as many as 15. The Knicks got no closer than nine points.

It was an embarrassing second-half effort in front of some Knicks legends who were feted at halftime for making it to the NBA’s 75th Anniversary team.

If Randle wants to join them soon, he certainly didn’t make a strong case on this forgettable loss.

OG Anunoby outshone him with a career-high 36 points to power the Raptors to their fourth straight win. He was also responsible for locking up Randle in the final three quarters.

Knicks’ third-year wing RJ Barrett stayed hot following his career-high 35-point performance in New Orleans. The Toronto native tried to rally New York with 27 points on 9 of 13 shooting against his hometown team. But it was simply not enough.

The loss ended the Knicks’ three-game win streak. It also marked their second home loss, which came at the hands of perceived lesser opponents.

“It’s the Garden. We try to protect the Garden at all costs, and we didn’t do that tonight,” Barrett said. “They played harder than us, and in the NBA, most of the time, the harder playing team’s gonna win.”

The undermanned Raptors entered the game as a plus-7 underdog. But they hammered out the win by outmuscling the Knicks, 48-41, in the glass.

They outhustled them too.

Toronto was plus-seven in offensive rebounds, which led to a 16-8 advantage in second-chance points.

Lazy passes led to turnovers. The Raptors picked the Knicks’ pocket a dozen times, resulting in 20-13 points off turnovers disparity. New York committed 16 turnovers against Toronto’s eight.

The Knicks entered Monday night 22nd in the league in fastbreak points allowed (14.2 per game). Their effort in getting back to transition defense only got worse in this game. The Raptors ran them to the ground, 21-3, in fastbreak points.

“Everyone’s capable of beating you. We have to play with an edge, and we have to play for 48 minutes,” Thibodeau said. “So, if we have a lead, we have to play tough with a lead. We didn’t do that, so they hurt us with second-chance points, they hurt us with steals, they hurt us with fastbreaks. So, those are things we have to correct.”

With Toronto missing key players Pascal Siakam (left shoulder injury) and rookie stud Scottie Barnes (right thumb sprain) ruled out just before the game, the Raptors played with an edge. They made the Knicks pay for their lackadaisical effort.

Gary Trent, Jr. added 22 points while Fred VanVleet played through small abrasion on the heel of his left hand to finish with 17 points and eight assists. Svi Mykhailiuk, who started for Barnes, stepped up with 15 points.

Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier fired 15 and 12 points, respectively, for the Knicks. But the Raptors scored three of the fourth three-pointers in that momentum-shifting run late in the second quarter against their token defense. Walker had a team-worst -15 plus-minus, Fournier was -11.

Randle also had a crucial turnover during that stretch that led to an Anunoby fastbreak slam. He was 0 for 3 in the second quarter and had two turnovers after his sizzling 5 of 6 shooting in the opening quarter. He ended up with a -15 plus-minus.

“Both of our losses came here at home where games we feel we shouldn’t have lost,” Randle said. It’s always disappointing. You play every game to win, but you can’t sulk on it. You gotta learn from it, keep it moving and get ready for the two-game road trip.”

The Knicks aim to bounce back and maintain their perfect 3-0 record on the road when they visit the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday (7:00 p.m.) and the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks on Friday (7:30 p.m.).

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